Debate over proposed Equity Law changes

Posted on March 8, 2011. Filed under: Employment Equity |

Apologies for the quiet state of the SA Reconciliation Barometer blog in the past few weeks – but rest assured that I have definitely been following the very public controversy surrounding recently-released comments made by government spokesperson and former labour DG Jimmy Manyi last year, and the subsequent accusations of racism by Minister in the Presidency Trevor Manuel.

Manyi reportedly made the following comments in an interview on KykNet’s Robinson Regstreeks show, in March of 2010:

“I think it’s very important for coloured people in this country to understand that South Africa belongs to them in totality not just the Western Cape. So this over-concentration of coloureds in the Western Cape is not working for them. They should spread in the rest of the country … so they must stop this over-concentration situation because they are in over-supply where they are so you must look into the country and see where you can meet the supply.”

In his front-page response, Manuel countered that Manyi’s comments reflect an intent to “carve away the basic premise of the Employment Equity Act” and the infiltration of racism in the “highest echelons of government”. Manuel wrote,

“We were present at the point of the debate of the first Employment Equity Bill; we expressed a complete comfort with the assignment of “designated groups” to include “black people” which means “Africans, Coloureds and Indians” because it served as a representation of our constitutionality and as the fruits of our struggle.

When, in your capacity as chairperson of the Employment Equity Commission, you made strange utterances that sought to carve away the basic premise of the Employment Equity Act, we should have been more vigilant.

The just and constitutionally obligated provisions for redress are not and can never be an excuse to perpetuate racism.

Now, in the light of the utterances you made when you were the DG of the Department of Labour, and given the fact that the amendments to the Employment Equity Act were drafted during your tenure, I have a sense that your racism has infiltrated the highest echelons of government.”

The controversy comes in the midst of a recent proposal to amend the Employment Equity Act: current wording of the Act reads that appointments should reflect the “demographic profile of the national and regional economically active population (EAP)”, and proposals to remove the word “regional” have been interpreted as a threat to employment prospects for residents of some provinces.

Speaking yesterday, President Zuma commented that the proposed changes “do not in any way affect negatively the employment opportunities for the Coloured and/or Indian population. In fact, it makes it easier for employers to comply with the law and create more job opportunities for all the designated groups.” According to the president, both the words “national” and “regional” will be removed, with the intended outcome that “employers will have the flexibility to decide whether to use regional or national demographics depending on their operations.” (my emphasis)

However, a SAPA report today quotes Anthea Jeffrey of the South African Institute of Race Relations as describing these assurances as both “welcome” and “hardly convincing”.

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